American Support for Isolationism Hits 50-year High, PEW Survey Finds

Majority of Americans oppose Obama's foreign policy, most don't want to see increased involvement in Mideast conflict; Iran continues to be seen as threat.

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More and more Americans believe that the United States' international power and prestige are waning. For the first time, more than half of Americans oppose their nation’s policy of global engagement.

A new survey by PEW published on Wednesday has determined that 52 percent of Americans think that the U.S. “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own,” while only 38% disagree with that statement.

These figures represent the highest amount of support for isolationist policy in the U.S. since the Pew Research Center began conducting this survey 50 years ago. For comparison, in 1976, the year after the Vietnam War ended, only 42 percent of Americans believed that their nation should reduce its involvement in international affairs.

After a decade worth of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a NATO operation in Lybia that helped bring down the regime and a threat of military action in Syria, a majority of the respondents (51 percent) answered that the U.S. is “doing too much to help solve world problems” and believe that their government should focus on internal issues, primarily the economy.

It was also found that the majority of the respondents , 53 percent, believe that American influence is waning, and that it has less power in the international arena than it did 10 years ago – a 12 percent increase since 2009. A full 70 percent believe that the U.S. receives less respect than it did in the past – a 14 increase from last year and similar to the result of a survey in 2008, toward the end of George W. Bush’s second term (71 percent).

However, despite the opposition to U.S. involvement in world affairs, most Americans support a global economy. 77 percent see economic ties and deals with other countries as beneficial to the U.S.

President Obama’s foreign policy, once considered one of his strong points, also garnered criticism, as 56 percent said that they oppose it, with only 34 percent agreeing. When asked to rank Obama's actions in ten various international incidents, in nine such cases more respondents expressed opposition than support.

For example, 57 percent disagreed with the way the U.S. acted in Afghanistan and Syria; 46 percent believed that the Obama Administration incorrectly handled global warming; 53 percent and 52 percent oppose Obama’s policies toward Iran and China, respectively. 55 percent of respondents, however, gave Obama a positive rating for his handling of terrorism, while 44 percent expressed disappointment.

As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a majority of Americans were not interested in seeing increased U.S. involvement. While 39 percent said the U.S. should be less involved in solving the Middle East conflict and 36 percent responded that they believe involvement should remain the same, only a fifth of respondents, 21 percent, think that Washington should become more involved in the conflict.

Iran continues to be a threat to the U.S., at least in the eyes of the American public. 68 percent of respondents see Iran’s nuclear program as a serious threat to the U.S., only a slight change from the surveys conducted in 2009 and 2005.

The survey, which was conducted before a deal between Iran and world powers was reached in Geneva, shows that the majority of Americans do not believe that Tehran is seriously committed to finding a solution to the controversy regarding its nuclear program. Among the respondents who had heard about the negotiations, only 33 percent believed that the Iranian leaders were taking the talks seriously; 60 percent said that they were not.

A majority of Americans feel threatened by a new emerging security risk, as seven in ten Americans (70 percent) believe that cyber-attacks pose a major threat to U.S. security. This figure was only slightly lower than the amount of Americans that expressed concern over an attack by Al-Qaida or a similar extremist group (75 percent), a result that remained slightly changed in recent years.

The survey was conducted with the Council on Foreign Relations, between October 30 and November 6. 2,003 individuals were interviewed.

A U.S. Marine on board a V-22 Osprey aircraft, with the American flag behind him.Credit: Reuters

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